Introductiondrugs, substances used in medicine either externally or internally for curing, alleviating, or preventing a disease or deficiency. At the turn of the century only a few medically effective substances were widely used scientifically, among them ether, morphine, digitalis, diphtheria antitoxin, smallpox vaccine, iron, quinine, iodine, alcohol, and mercury. Since then, and particularly since World War II, many important new drugs have been developed, making chemotherapy an important part of medical practice. Such drugs include the antibiotics, which act against bacteria and fungi; quinacrine and other synthetics that act against malaria and other parasitic infections; cardiovascular drugs, including beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors; diuretics, which increase the rate of urine flow; whole blood, plasma, and blood derivatives; anticoagulants such as heparin and coumarin; various smooth-muscle relaxants such as papaverine, used in heart and vascular diseases; smooth-muscle stimulants; immunologic agents, which protect against many diseases and allergenic substances; hormones such as thyroxine, insulin, and estrogen and other sex hormones; psychotherapeutics such as antianxiety drugs and antidepressant drugs; cortisone and synthetic corticosteroid drugs used in treating inflammatory diseases such as arthritis; vitamins and dietary minerals; antidotes for poisons; and various drugs that act as stimulants or depressants on all or various parts of the nervous system, including analgesics, narcotics, amphetamines, and barbiturates (see also anesthesia; psychopharmacology; hallucinogenic drug).
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